To make their camps better places for kids with intellectual, developmental, physical and sensory disabilities, two Jewish camps in Northern California are getting some extra help from the Yashar Initiative — a program of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
“The FJC is really being thoughtful,” said Jamie Simon, executive director of Camp Tawonga, one of two area recipients this year.
The other is URJ Camp Newman, which has received money to rebuild pathways and ramps that were destroyed in the 2017 fires that swept through Napa and Sonoma.
Meanwhile, Camp Tawonga will put its grant money toward a new health center, one that will include wheelchair-accessible ramps and bathrooms, plus rooms for campers with extreme reactions to sensory stimulation who need a quiet space.
“We were really thinking about disabilities of all different kinds,” said Simon.
Currently in its second year, the Yashar Initiative is a three-year, $12 million program funded by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. Fifteen camps were awarded grants in the latest round of funding.
In the first round of grants, announced in April 2019, Camp Tawonga, near Yosemite, and Camp Keff in Foster City were two of the 16 grantees. “We were able to update our dining hall,” Simon said, while Keff’s grant was for an outdoor classroom and a sensory garden, seen as therapeutic for children with sensory processing disorders.
The Yashar Initiative now has given $700,000 to the three Bay Area camps, according to FJC.
To be eligible, camps must raise 25 percent of the project cost themselves, and the grant can cover no more than 30 percent of the total. They’ll also get money toward training for staff on inclusion, and camps have to pledge to increase the number of campers with disabilities by 5 percent.
Simon said that was right up Tawonga’s alley, as the camp tries to ensure that it is a welcoming Jewish experience for any kid.
“We want to make sure camp is prioritizing all Jews,” she said.